As quoted in an online article, Andres Duany, one of the founders and leaders of the New Urbanist movement, both predicts a decline in LEED certifications and argues against excessive regulation of development. Now, those who follow my posts know I am not the biggest fan of LEED. While it’s well intentioned, I think LEED, like most green building programs, is flawed and long overdue for some major revisions. Duany, however, doesn’t seem to really understand the details of LEED for Homes. Since he is essentially an urban planner, I don’t expect that he should.
One of his complaints is that the program doesn’t give points for low-cost options such as passive solar heating. He claims that it encourages developers to buy expensive windows to make sure that “not an atom of air escapes.” Now, I totally agree with the idea of finding the low-hanging fruit, but to claim that LEED focuses only on expensive energy-efficiency requirements is to misunderstand the program. Among green building programs, LEED has some of the lightest requirements for energy efficiency. In fact, certification doesn’t require a home to be any higher performance than ENERGY STAR—which, while a reasonable target, is only 15% better than the building code, at least for the time being.
Complaints not supported by facts
Some of Duany’s arguments against LEED actually seem to describe exactly how the program works. He suggests that high-density development in urban locations should have lower requirements for energy efficiency, which is exactly what LEED for Homes does. A project can pick up lots of points in Locations and Linkages while achieving relatively few in Energy and Atmosphere and still become certified, in some cases at the highest levels. He also suggests that single-family homes be subject to higher efficiency standards to compensate for the inefficiency of this type of land use. Again, this is exactly how LEED is structured.
Not completely wrong
Where I do agree with Duany’s argument is the high cost of meeting LEED certification. LEED is often too complicated and administratively heavy for the results obtained. Among green building programs, LEED is probably the most difficult to administer, requiring both intense interpretation and large quantities of documentation. Most other programs, both local and national, tend to be less complicated to manage and, in some cases, result in higher-performing buildings with less effort. LEED for Homes is currently undergoing a revision, currently scheduled for release in late 2012. All of us involved in the program hope that it becomes both simpler and more effective, something I believe is very possible with the right changes.
In complaining about the complexity of LEED certification, Duany suggests that “it will crash on its own.” While there are many out here—most notably, Henry Gifford—who also feel that way, I think this is an unlikely scenario. We should work together to make all green certification programs more effective and less complicated, while lowering the costs of compliance. I believe this is very possible—although it remains to be seen if we actually do it.